Monday, August 8, 2011

The Clarendon Way: A Walk Along the Roman Road

Josh and I spent the weekend following in the footsteps of Roman soldiers and traders who traversed England nearly 2000 years ago, when it was part of the vast Roman Empire.  Over the course of two days, we walked about 25 miles, covering the distance from Old Sarum/Sorviodunum (now Salisbury) to Venta Belgarum (now Winchester), two cities known for their large, historic cathedrals.  We traveled along a footpath known as the Clarendon Way, because it passes through the site of Clarendon Palace, a 12th century country house used by Norman kings -- which is currently occupied by some rather unexpected inhabitants.

If you'd like to follow along on a map, there's a helpful one here that allows you to zoom in.

We packed everything we'd need into Josh's tiny backpack and my purse and set off by train on Saturday morning.  I pretended to take this picture of Josh at Clapham Junction, but really I was trying to get a shot of the group behind him.
Waiting for our train
Yeah.  Guys in baby blue shorts with knee-high pink argyle socks, on some kind of golf outing.  Either flamingly gay, or very secure in their masculinity.  Or English.
Alert the Fashion Police!
 We reached Salisbury at 10:45 and walked along the River Avon towards the cathedral.
River Avon, Salisbury
 As with many cities in England, the architecture is an interesting blend of old, new, and ancient.
Salisbury Cathedral was completed in 1258 and has not been substantively altered or added on to since that time.  It is considered one of the finest examples of early Gothic architecture in England.  It was undergoing some restoration work on the exterior, but otherwise seemed in remarkably good condition for a building that was over 750 years old.
Salisbury Cathedral
The interior was even more impressive.
The Nave
 We weren't quite sure what to make of an art installation at the cathedral called Conflux, where the sculptor had placed at least 20 lifelike human sculptures all around the interior and exterior.  Some were on a human scale, while others were a bit larger or smaller.  Most of them were men dressed in work clothes -- suits, uniforms, coveralls -- but a couple of them blended in with the tourists.

 The cathedral was full of elaborate tombs and memorials, and also had an original copy of the Magna Carta from 1215 and the world's oldest functioning Medieval clock.
The Quire
Elaborate tomb
Prisoners of Conscience Window (1980)
South Transept
Medieval Clock
Since we still had a lot of ground to cover, we spent less than an hour in the cathedral (recommended visit is 2 hours!) and went into the town center to find some lunch.  It was raining lightly while we toured the cathedral, but it cleared up just after we left, so we sat outside at a cafe and watched people shop at the outdoor market while we ate.  I'm sure we could have spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the market and touring the city, but we had a hotel reservation 12 miles away, so we needed to get moving.  We made our way out of the city, and within 10 minutes, we were out in the countryside.

The Clarendon Way
 The path was lined with wild blackberries, which we fortified ourselves with as we walked.  The ripest ones were sweeter than anything I've ever bought at a grocery store.
Wild blackberries
 The trail was pretty well marked, primarily with circular green and white markers like the one near Josh's hand in the photo below.  But we brought photocopies of a couple OS maps, a description of the walk, and Josh's iPad with the entire route marked out on Google Earth, just to be on the safe side.
Pretty sure this is the right way
 Like our previous walk, the route took us through several farm fields, where the owners are required to maintain a public right of way.
Outstanding in his field
 The weather was perfect for walking -- mid-60's, breezy, and partly cloudy, with occasional brief rain showers.  This is typical weather for this time of year, but the colorful wildflowers reminded us that it was summer.
wild flowers
 We took a short break when we reached a scenic overlook at the top of a hill, thoughtfully furnished with a picnic table.  That huge spire in the distance is Salisbury Cathedral.  We had a nice chat with two older ladies out walking a dog -- the first lengthy conversation I've had with complete strangers who are English.  It was refreshing to know that some of the natives are friendly.
View of Salisbury
As we came down the other side of the hill, we entered the grounds of Clarendon Palace.  Once a royal residence during the reigns of Henry II and Henry III, it is now just a few piles of rocks, and much of it remains unexcavated.  Some helpful signage shows how the site would have been used in its heyday, and you can still see where many of the structures once stood.
Clarendon Palace ruins

Remains of the Great Hall
 As we came up over the rise, we were surprised to see that the palace is still inhabited -- by llamas!  There were at least a dozen of them lounging in the grass.  They did not seem at all concerned that we were walking through their home, and just watched us with idle curiosity as we went past. They are clearly foreign llamas and not English, as they did not offer us a cup of tea.
Current palace residents: Llamas!
 Our next waypoint was the village of Pitton, which seemed deserted, but had many cute cottages with thatched roofs. 
Lots of houses had thatched roofs here
We soon discovered where everyone had gone -- they were all attending a wedding at the local church.
Awaiting the bride & groom in Pitton
From there, the trail headed northeast towards the village of Winterslow.   Parts of the footpath looked like they were right out of a fairy tale, and we kept half expecting to encounter a troll, elf, hobbit, or other mythical/literary creature.  This mindset came into play in an interesting way the next day...
Magical, or just overgrown?
We had hoped to stop for tea in Winterslow, but the two village pubs were both closed until 6:30 and it was only 5:00.  We made do with ice cream bars from the tiny village shop, the only other business in town, and then found our way to the Roman Road.
The Roman Road
The Roman Road varies from a paved residential street to a gravel road to a rutted dirt track, but it is exceedingly straight and easy to follow.  In most places, it is lined with trees, which helped keep us dry during the occasional rain showers we encountered along the way.
Who needs an umbrella?
Despite all our maps and technology, it was always reassuring to come across these sign posts, confirming that we were on the right track.
As we reached the crest of another hill, we were rewarded with a sweeping view of the countryside.
 Josh checks the route on his iPad, which came in handy on a few occasions where the path was not well-marked.
 As we came back down the hill, we encountered a strange art installation -- or something.  Whatever it was, it made a nice spot to sit and rest before continuing on to the village of Broughton.
What are these for?  Why are they here?
 By the time we reached Broughton, it was 8:00 and we were tired and hungry -- and still at least 3 miles away from our hotel in Stockbridge.  Even if we rallied, there was no way we'd make it there by dark.  We stopped in at the first pub we encountered, The Grey Hound, and asked if there was a bus or taxi that could take us the rest of the way.  The bartender said the last bus was two hours ago, but offered to arrange for a taxi while we had dinner, which we gratefully accepted.  This was a more upscale pub that served Italian food, and he suggested we order pizza if we wanted to get in and out of there quickly as the kitchen was a bit backed up.  Josh ended up with a calzone that was bigger than his head, and my ham and artichoke pizza was quite a bit larger than the "individual size" I was expecting.  Nevertheless, Josh managed to consume the entire calzone, and I finished off 3/4 of the pizza.  We were hungry!
 The taxi driver showed up just as we were paying the bill.  He was essentially just a guy with a car, and I kicked myself halfway through the journey for not agreeing on a fare ahead of time.  Fortunately, he was a friendly, chatty guy who dropped us off right in front of our hotel and only charged us £8 for the ride.  Josh happily gave him £10 and we made our way to the reception desk, eager to collapse in bed.  We didn't even have to give them our name, as it was a relatively small hotel and everyone else had already checked in.  Unfortunately, everyone else appeared to be there for a wedding, and the reception was going on right across the courtyard from our room.  We shut the window and managed to fall asleep despite the cheesy music, but neither of us slept well.  Note to self: do not go to bed half an hour after consuming an entire pizza.

We got up around 8 am and had a hearty breakfast (which came with the room) at the hotel.  Since we had arrived after dark, we took a few minutes to explore the hotel and the town of Stockbridge before heading on our way.
Grosvenor Hotel
Hotel garden
Hotel garden
 There appeared to be some sort of weekly outdoor market going on along the high street, as well as a "Craft Fayre" in the building next door.  Once again, I would have loved to spend more time, but we  had a long way to go.
tractor display & market
 We followed a footpath along the River Test to make our way back to the Clarendon Way, which was about 2 miles south of us.  Our route took us through the Common Marsh, a large grassy open space where people were walking their dogs, playing with their kids, and grazing their cattle and horses.  You had to watch where you stepped...
Common Marsh
River Test
The River Test is one of the most renowned trout streams in the UK, and is flanked by some pretty swanky looking country estates.  We frequently heard gunshots as we passed through this area -- presumably from hunters shooting at birds.
The Test Way
 We passed through more farm fields and crested another hill overlooking the village of King's Sombourne.
We were still pretty full from our big breakfast, but this was the only village between Stockbridge and Winchester, so we decided to stop for lunch at the Crown Inn.
King's Somborne town center
The Crown Inn
 We arrived shortly after noon, but well ahead of the lunch crowd, so we had the entire garden to ourselves.  Like most pubs we've been to, the garden was lovely.
Crown Inn garden
 I ordered a ploughman's lunch, which is generally a platter with bread, cheese, apple, pickled onions, and a salad.  This one came with a wedge of sharp white cheddar big enough to serve at a party.  I cut a few slices off to make a sandwich, and then ate half of it and wrapped the other half and the remainder of the cheese to carry with us as a snack.  Suitably fortified, we set off again towards the southeast through more rolling farmland.  We walked through a vast field of poppies, just past their bloom.  It must have been spectacular a week or two ago.
 We met back up with the Roman Road, which took us through another field of sheep.
More sheep along the Roman Road
 And then we diverged a little southwards to climb to the top of Beacon Hill, which afforded yet another lovely view.
Huge estate viewed from Beacon Hill
 At the top of the hill is a rather unusual monument.  To a horse.
The Monument
The horse is buried underneath the monument, and his grateful owner erected a plaque to explain why. 
Yes, that's right.  After surviving a fall into a 25-foot deep chalk pit, he renamed the horse "Beware Chalk Pit" and he went on to win a race.  You can't make this stuff up!

We took advantage of the lovely view and comfy benches to stop here for a snack before making our way down the other side.
Josh checks out the view with binoculars
 We descended into Farley Mount Country Park, with a variety of trails for walkers, cyclists, and riders through meadows and woodlands.  The Clarendon Way merges with a bridle trail that runs through the park.

 As we walked through the wooded areas, we came across dozens of these crude lean-tos made from fallen tree limbs.  It looked as if an entire horde of incompetent Boy Scouts had camped there overnight. 
Who built these, and why?
I mentioned earlier that many parts of the walk seemed straight out of a fairy tale.  Well, at this point, we actually did encounter an elf -- along with what appeared to be the entire cast of a community theater production of Lord of the Rings.  I'm not entirely sure what we walked into, but it seemed like a group of at least a dozen men (and maybe a couple women) in their twenties re-enacting a scene from a Tolkien novel.  At least one of the guys was wearing fake pointy ears, and many of them had cloaks and wooden swords.  No one said a word as we passed through.  I wish I had taken a photo, but the mortification was so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Or a replica of Frodo's sword, which I'm sure someone could have provided.  Once we were safely out of earshot, we looked at one another and said, "What the hell was that?"  Josh is a HUGE LotR fan, but even that seemed a little much for him.  It reminded us of a scene from an episode of Flight of the Conchords, except no one appeared to be filming them.

After that encounter, we weren't nearly as fazed by the giant, hairy cows lounging out in the meadow.  We just made sure not to get too close -- and to watch our step.
serious cows!
At this point, my feet were hurting so much I thought I was going to throw up, but we were still a few miles from Winchester.  We sat down for a bit and read the description of the rest of the Clarendon Way, which looped north of the Roman Road "past farms and a golf course" and then south quite a ways past Oliver's Battery, which is now "a patch of grass surrounded by a housing estate."  While those sounded like compelling sights, we decided to stick to the Roman Road, which went straight into Winchester and cut a couple miles off the route.  Since we were no longer wading through waist-high weeds or muddy horse trails, I changed into my flip-flops for the last leg of the journey and soldiered on.  The route was a little less scenic, but we did pass some nice houses, and a field full of rabbits.
By the time we reached Winchester, it was after 6 pm on a Sunday, which meant everything but the pubs would be closed.  We found one and used the loo, and then made a beeline for the train station.
We were so happy to make it to the train station
Since we had just been to Winchester a few weeks ago, we didn't feel too bad about skipping the sightseeing and heading home, especially since we were both eager to get off our feet.  I'm glad we did the walk, and we saw a lot of beautiful countryside that you can't get to by car or train, but that's a lot of ground to cover in two days.  I have a new-found appreciation for people who participate in those 3-day charity fundraisers where they walk 60 miles in 3 days. (I bow to you, Diana!)  And I definitely need to get some new insoles for my hiking boots.  Not to mention clean the 6+ kinds of animal feces from the treads.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, NainaP! :) I loved reading this account of your weekend adventure. I laughed out loud when I read about the llamas. Your pizza looks SO good! And I seriously can't believe you came across the Lord of the Rings activity in the woods . . .wow! I have seen nothing like that on all of my walks . . .


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